In recent weeks, Spain’s region of Catalonia has once again come to the forefront of international attention, as an independence movement which is well underway has intensified. The hard-fought battle between secessionists and the Spanish government in Madrid came to a head on Friday, October 27 when Catalonia declared independence from Spain after a vote taken by the Catalan Parliament.
This, however, did not go unchallenged for long, as Spanish officials have continuously threatened that they will not allow Catalan secession. Madrid soon responded to the declaration by flexing its political muscles and disbanding Catalonia’s regional government, removing not only the Catalan president, but more than one hundred other Catalan officials from office. This imposition of direct rule also gave Madrid control of Catalonia’s police force.
Since then, Spanish Attorney General, José Manuel Maza, has demanded that charges be filed against the leaders of the region’s independence movement for inciting sedition and rebellion. Shortly thereafter, Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, left Barcelona and fled to Brussels, Belgium on October 31. However, to the surprise of many, he arrived back in Barcelona later that same day.
Overall support for the independence movement has been somewhat tenuous, especially among Catalans themselves. In fact, although Catalonia’s regional parliament voted overwhelmingly for independence, support from the Catalan public has wavered continuously, as only about half of Catalonia’s residents were in favor of independence in a poll taken earlier in 2017. Such a discrepancy, therefore, highlights just how contentious, and complex this issue has become.
Many international actors have chosen sides in this conflict, with some of Spain’s most influential allies, such as the U.K., Germany, France, and even the United States expressing their intentions to back the Spanish government. A statement issued from the U.S. Department of State on October 27, reads, “The United States enjoys a great friendship and an enduring partnership with our NATO Ally Spain. Our two countries cooperate closely to advance our shared security and economic priorities. Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united.”
Catalonia, which encompasses Barcelona, is situated in the northeastern part of Spain along the Mediterranean Sea and is one of the nation’s wealthiest and most successful regions. This is evidenced by the fact that nearly 20 percent of Spain’s GDP comes from Catalonia. Additionally, one in every four Spanish exports is from this region, making a possible secession a deadly economic blow to the rest of Spain, as well as the European Union. With many European Union member states concerned with the viability of the union after Brexit, some are hesitant to back a secessionist movement which, in their view, would only further fracture the EU.
For some members of the Holy Cross community, this crisis has even bigger implications. Foreign Language Assistant, Andrea Patino de Artaza, who comes from A Coruña in the northwest corner of Spain, commented, “The Constitution allows the Spanish government to take over the Catalonian government and try to suppress their attempt at independence. However, they do not have the right to suppress the movement, and, in fact, they have followed practices that go against the right of freedom of speech, such as putting in jail two Catalonian mayors who called for a demonstration for independence, which is quite disturbing and even reminiscent of fascist practices.”
She continued, “I think the independence movement will never be completely suppressed nor silenced since, historically, it’s been present since the early 19th century.” When asked whether she believes the movement has divided Spain and the Spanish people, she responded, “Yes. Especially, after the 1-O (the day of the referendum in Catalonia for its independence), when the police force was sent by the government in riot gear to stop people from attending polling stations. Since then, there have been plenty of demonstrations, both supporting their right to decide and against the independence. Sadly, many of the demonstrations against Catalonia’s independence have had a fascist tone, which again, it is very upsetting considering Spain’s history.”
photo from CNN